Recognise The Signs Of Teacher Burnout

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Are you suffering from teacher burnout?

It’s sounds like a silly question almost, but recognising burnout in ourselves is not always obvious.

It is normally other people who tell us that we are not managing well. Although we might feel exhausted, alienated and listless, we might pass these off as being down to a busy term and ‘being a teacher’.

The helping professions are notorious for high burnout rates and teaching especially so. Our ‘give, give, give’ lives come at a cost and the dark-side of self-sacrifice is to ‘take, take, take’ and bleed us dry.

Burnout has significant consequences for a teacher’s own health and that of their pupils.

What is burnout?

This is a bit like trying to define dyslexia: there is no single definition.

However, the most widely used, accepted and reliable measurement tool of stress and burnout is The Maslach Burnout Inventory Manual.

Burnout is a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity.

The difference between burnout and ‘simple ’ work stress is your ability to recover your normal reserves of physical and emotional energy from one week to the next.  If you can recover and function normally next week, wonderful. If your energy is in a long downward spiral and you are ‘not yourself’ and unable to give your best at work then you are most likely suffering burnout.

First Aid

Dr Jenny Grant Rankin in her book First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success, points to a couple of free self-assessments to help us informally judge whether we are experiencing burnout. She recommends taking a look at the Burnout Self-Test by MindTools or the ‘Are you experiencing burnout?’ quiz at Teaching Tolerance.

Other self-assessment quizzes include Are You Burning Out? by Dr Beverley Potter and the service fields Burnout Test by Psychology Today. It is worth remembering these tests are for information only and not a substitute for diagnosis from a medical professional.

Dr Rankin notes that there are six main factors that contribute to teacher burnout:

1. Volume

The sheer workload is overwhelming and there is never enough time to get everything done.

2. Environment

The teaching day is relentless with constant stimulation. Teachers are pulled in too many directions. Inadequate and poorly vetted resources play a significant part too.

3. Tedium

A surprising one for many but for some teachers the job can become tedious doing the same thing year after year.

4. Student Behaviour

A myriad of factors feed into this factor including including classroom management problems, a lack of boundaries at home and student involvement in crime.

5. Administration

Ineffective and pointless paperwork and/or antagonistic demands.

6. Relationships

Poor parent communication, a general disrespect for teachers, media influences.

Of course there are more factors that we could add to the list and it begs the question, is teaching a sustainable profession?


Teaching has now become unmanageable because of the crushing demands, constant government meddling, accountability pressures and long hours.

Teachers running out of steam is commonplace and bucket loads of mindfulness, yoga and healthy eating won’t scratch the surface without the sledgehammer interventions at policy level to address workload and the crippling high stakes culture of a data-driven system where teachers are mistrusted and put under constant pressure to perform.

If teachers are stressed to the hilt, overworked and frustrated then students won’t receive the best or the most positive experience.

Getting burnt out is a steady process and doesn’t just happen overnight. If we can recognise our own personal stressors and start to address the things that are in our control then we can smother the flames before they take hold and grow into a blazing fire.

If you think you are suffering from burnout then you may need professional support – what you definitely need is time out and if that means ‘phoning in sick’ then don’t let guilt get in the way of that as your health is at stake.

Teachers don’t have nine lives.

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